Interview: Alan Dean Foster
by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu.com Interview ISBN/ITEM#: INTADFoste
Date: November 2006 / Show Official Info /
SFRevu: We hadn't realized you were such an avid world traveler. Have you always been a wayfarer at heart, and when did you go global?
Alan Dean Foster: All I've ever wanted to do was travel. Since I'm restricted to one planet, I'm trying to see as much of it as possible before the hard drive crashes. I suppose I got the bug from a) Uncle Scrooge comics and b) the original little golden books. My first journey involved spending three months back in 1973 traveling through French Polynesia. I've been on the go ever since.
SFRevu: You recently went on the National Geographic Endeavor to places I've always been fascinated by in the South Seas. How did that come about? Did you read Thor Heyerdahl's books when you were a kid (I certainly did)?
ADF: Naturally I had read Kon-Tiki...but oddly enough, not Aku-Aku. There are no places I'm not interested in. The chance to visit spots on the map like Henderson, Pitcairn, Palmerston island and more was one I simply could not miss. The opportunity to dive places where only a few scientists (and perhaps no divers at all) had ever been was an added bonus. I'm happy to say that there are still unspoiled, unpolluted places in the sea.
SFRevu: What are the most exotic places you've ever been to, and are your alien worlds influenced by them?
ADF: The most exotic would certainly include several visits to Papua New Guinea (the novel Primal Shadows, Forge), the depths of the Amazon (Peru, Ecuador, Brazil), the Gran Sabana of Venezuela, Namibia, isolated parts of the South Pacific such as Tuvalu...there are still many exotic, little-visited places on Earth. They invariably influence my work.
SFRevu: Did you go to India to research Sagramanda? What was it like?
ADF: An Indian gentleman and I drove 2000 miles across northern India, from west to east, after which I did some air travel to places like Calcutta (and onward by car to Darjeeling). Darjeeling looks like a setting for James Hilton's Shangri-la, only with backpackers and internet cafes (and snow leopards). The best description I can give of what India was/is like is to quote an Indian author who declared that he could look out his hotel window and see five centuries.
SFRevu: Can an American do justice to the character viewpoint of someone from a non-western culture? Did the India of Sagramanda come across the way you wanted it to?
ADF: I hope Indian readers will feel that I did justice to their country and culture. As to whether an American can do justice to a non-western culture, if you can create a believable culture dwelling on a world circling another star, you ought to be able to handle India...or China, Africa, or any other non-western culture.
SFRevu: Dr Yunus was just awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his work creating a micro-loan system to allow the poor to start their own businesses, and women are 97% of the loan recipients. It seems to me that women are the best hope for breaking the cycles of poverty and violence (see my editorial this month: A Little Goes A Long Way), and though there are plenty of highly educated women in India your characters were either beautiful seductresses or a drug crazed killer -- though she wasn't an Indian. That's not like you. There are lots of bright self-reliant women in your other books. What happened?
ADF: Despite her lower-caste background and lack of formal education, I certainly consider the Untouchable character Depahli to be "bright and self-reliant". Part of being a good writer is trying new things and not doing the expected. If not doing the expected is "what happened" in Sagramanda, then I'm doing my job.
SFRevu: Sagramanda seems like quite a departure form your other works. The main character, as much as anyone is a main character, is morally ambiguous, having stolen from his employer to get rich enough to leave for a life of luxury with his Untouchable girlfriend. Is the difference in style intentional, or my imagination?
ADF: Absolutely intentional. Characters need to be as diverse as people are in real life. I was told about a noble and dedicated general in the Indian army who was not averse to taking the occasional bribe...because on his miserable salary he could not afford to present the kind of figure his men would be inspired to follow. Non-"western culture", yes?
SFRevu: Did you write this book for American or Indian audiences, and will it be published in India as well?
ADF: I wrote it for whoever would like to read a fast-paced story about near-future India, regardless of their address. As to whether it will be published in India, it's just out here now. I'd love to see an Indian publisher do it, though.
SFRevu: How did the book come about, and how did Pyr Books come to publish it?
ADF: After my month-long journey through northern India I felt I had experienced enough and seen enough to form the basis for a book. Pyr published it because Lou Anders really got behind it.
SFRevu: I liked Sagramanda well enough, but at the end I felt like karma hadn't been balanced, even though it seemed like a stand alone title. Does everyone live happily ever after, or will there be more stories to come?
ADF: I always saw it as a stand-alone...but with 100 million potential characters and storylines, who can say? As to everyone living happily ever after, that doesn't happen very often in India. Incidentally, the two personal favorites of mine among the characters are Inspector Singh, who has an impossible job (as do most police officers in enormous cities) and the ambitious fixer Sanjay Ghosh, who for me typifies the hundreds of small businessmen I met along the way.
SFRevu: What's next?
ADF: Trouble Magnet: A Pip & Flinx Adventure, the next Flinx & Pip book, will be out from Del Rey on the 28th Nov. It will be followed next year by Patrimony, the non-Flinx Commonwealth novel Quofum, and eventually Flinx Transcendent from Del Rey, as well as a new short story collection, Exceptions to Reality.
A large YA/adult fantasy, The Deavys, is currently being read.
SFRevu: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.